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Back to Roles on Certain Health Conditions

Milk Products May Prevent Age-related Muscle Loss

A number of studies indicate that milk products may prevent age-related loss of muscle mass and strength. Also known as sarcopenia, it can be prevented and managed by being physically active and getting enough protein and vitamin D in the diet.1,2 These recommendations are put forward by the International Osteoporosis Foundation1 and the Society for Sarcopenia, Cachexia and Wasting Disease.2

Seven ways milk products may help prevent and manage sarcopenia

  1. Greater skeletal muscle mass3,4 -- These were the results of two cross-sectional studies in older women (aged 70-85 years), which looked at the association between dairy intake (≥ 2.2 servings/day) skeletal muscle mass and bone structure.
  2. Greater total bone mass (including greater appendicular bone mass)3
  3. Increased total bone mineral density (including trabecular bone mineral density)3
  4. More muscle strength4,5 -- This was shown in a cross-sectional study that examined hand-grip strength in older women; and from a randomized controlled trial.
  5. 5% faster walking and 25% less chance of poor balance6 -- Results from a 65-year prospective cohort study revealed that childhood milk consumption can help improve physical performance during late adulthood.
  6. Higher-level functional capacity7 -- A 7-year prospective study of elderly Japanese linked higher animal protein intake with higher-level functional capacity.
  7. Improved energy and nutrient intake8 -- Consuming extra servings of milk products was found to help prevent malnutrition and sarcopenia in older adults.

The key nutrients to the benefits listed above appear to be protein and vitamin D.


  • Whey, which is one of the main proteins in milk, has been shown to increase the muscle strengthening effect of resistance training.2,5
  • Because whey is digested quickly, its amino acids are available for faster uptake into the body.9
  • A randomized controlled trial (the gold standard of studies) showed that protein-rich Ricotta led to increased muscle mass and strength among elderly people.5
  • Milk protein is also rich in the amino acid, leucine, which is linked to muscle synthesis.9,10

Vitamin D

  • Vitamin D status generally declines with aging.2
  • Epidemiological studies indicate that low levels of vitamin D are linked to low muscle strength and increased frailty.
  • By contrast, higher levels of vitamin D are associated with increased muscle strength, better physical abilities, fewer falls and less frailty.
  • The exact ways vitamin D helps to prevent sarcopenia are still unknown, but may be linked to vitamin D receptors found in muscles.2,9

More studies are needed to better understand the exact mechanisms in which milk products can prevent and manage sarcopenia, beyond being a source of protein and vitamin D.


  1. International Osteoporosis Foundation. 2014. Sarcopenia. Accessed October 8, 2014.
  2. Morley JE et al. Nutritional recommendations for the management of sarcopenia. J Am Med Dir Assoc 2010;11:391-396.
  3. Radavelli-Bagatini S et al. Dairy food intake, peripheral bone structure, and muscle mass in elderly ambulatory women. J Bone Miner Res 2014;29:1691-1700.
  4. Radavelli-Bagatini S et al. Association of dairy intake with body composition and physical function in older community-dwelling women. J Acad Nutr Diet 2013;113:1669-1674.
  5. Alemán-Mateo H et al. Physiological effects beyond the significant gain in muscle mass in sarcopenic elderly men: evidence from a randomized clinical trial using a protein-rich food. Clin Interv Aging 2012;7:225-234.
  6. Birnie K et al. Childhood milk consumption is associated with better physical performance in old age. Age Ageing 2012;41:776-784.
  7. Imai E et al. Animal protein intake is associated with higher-level functional capacity in elderly adults: the Ohasama study. J Am Geriatr Soc 2014;62:426-434.
  8. Iuliano S et al. Consuming two additional serves of dairy food a day significantly improves energy and nutrient intakes in ambulatory aged care residents: a feasibility study. J Nutr Health Aging 2013;17:509-513.
  9. Robinson S et al. Nutrition and sarcopenia: a review of the evidence and implications for preventive strategies. J Aging Res 2012;2012:510801
  10. Norton C and Jakeman P. Towards a sustainable dairy sector: the underappreciated role of dairy protein in the preservation of lean tissue mass in the elderly. Int J Dairy Technol 2013;66:317-320.

Keywords: protein , vitamin D

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